Indie Spotlight

Indie Spotlight! Book People

Happy Happy Holiday morning, dear Mixed-up files Readers! Have I got a special indie spotlight for you today! I mean, innovative? Doesn’t even start the tip of the iceberg in describing this great bookstore!

Today I have the honor of interviewing Meghan Goel, amazing Young person’s buyer for Book People, based in Austin, Texas!

We’re going to slant this interview especially towards all the absolutely amazing promotions these guys do. I wanted to add the normal, general stuff as well, but we ended up spending over an hour talking about their absolutely AMAZING promotions and books and ideas, and I have to say, if I ever lived anywhere in the US, I’d make sure to visit Book People just for what all they offer! It’s amazing!

But check it out for yourself…

JKB: Meghan, welcome to the Mixed-Up Files! You’re located in one of my favorite states of all, Texas, and one of the coolest cities in it, Austin! How long have you been with Book People? And you’ve been buying the YA/MG/PBs ever since? Match made in heaven, I think!

MG: Thanks! I’ve been here about five years, now. And yes, been the young persons buyer the entire time!

JKB: I’ve snooped through your website, and I think it’s great. It looks like you’ve got a real handle on books and a definite corner on the market in Austin! Can you tell me a bit about how Book People sets itself apart from the competition – both online and off? (Because frankly you’ve got one of the better setups I think I’ve ever seen! Other indies, take note!)

MG: Sure! We’ve got so many great things…I’ll start with author visits. Not only do we have your standard author visit, but we actually cooperate with the school system to bring the authors to the schools – and make real events of it!

JKB: You bring the authors to the schools?

MG: Yes! It’s such a nice merge of author visit and interactive for the kids, the teachers love it – and the students do too! We also do family nights, where the entire gang comes down and participates in an author signing. We get a lot of families doing that.

JKB: I bet! It looks like you have some big players come through your doors, too!

MG: We’ve been very fortunate. *g* We had the smart chicks tour through most recently, and Vordak, and that was a lot of fun! We get a lot of great authors coming through Austin.

JKB: I bet! And I see here you also run literary camps?

MG: Yes. That was the brilliant idea of our outreach director, and kids and parents have been amazingly supportive and excited for them!

JKB: I would have killed to go to a book camp when I was little! I absolutely love that idea!

MG: We’ve got lots more where that came from! There’s our teen book festival, which  had over 1000 teens this year, an amazing turnout! We also work with doing smarter book fairs.

JKB: What’s that?

MG: We have roughly four large book fairs at our four biggest schools throughout the system in the year. We’ll make up lists (like for instance, the summer list had about 700 titles on it) and distribute those. Then the kids’ll order and boom, instant book happiness! We also do smaller book fairs inside the store, so that the family can join in.

JKB: Oh, cool! Family as in parents and everything? What a cool idea, to have a book fair in the store for parents too!

MG: Yes. You have to remember, kids aren’t our only customers. We have to sell to parents, grandparents, we have to keep all the markets in mind at the same time. That’s why physically the school book fairs are a great way to interest our core fans. The parents and other markets we get at our book family nights, author signings, and so on.

JKB: That’s true. I know many authors wonder how to reach the kid through the parents, but sounds like you have both sides at once here! Now, do you also worry about Amazon, or online sellers?

MG: Well, you can’t discount them. But we’re working with google ebooks, and we sell on our site as well, so we’re doing a lot in that arena now. We also have Facebook and Twitter for online outreach, and do specialised promotions only for those areas.

JKB: Like … ?

MG: Like giveaways, tickets, and so on. Our fans have another way to win and we get more online presence. It’s a win win situation!

JKB: So, how do you like to find your books? Tell me about a couple that are flying off the shelves, or a couple of your personal favorites?

MG: Well, one you’d not think would but is is “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda”. The mix of humor and Star Wars, the comedy in it … what a great book! I personally like “Finnegan of the Rock” as well, and do hand sell that a lot. I find that if I love a personal gem, I have a lot more leeway to show it to people in an independent bookstore. We have people ask us what we recommend all the time, and you can’t get that so easily in other formats of book selling!

JKB: Very true! So, working anything up for the holidays?

MG: We do! We make a yearly “Best of 2010” list for different sections, and we also create a Holiday catalogue and distribute that both online and in print! It really helps our customers find that perfect  book for that perfect someone.

JKB: *In AWE* Oh wow, you guys are on top of things! Thank you SO MUCH for coming to TMUF and agreeing to be our FEATURED HOLIDAY INDIE for December! Here’s my thing, guys: You’ve still got time before Christmas! Go to Book People NOW and buy something, and please support this absolutely fabulous bookstore!

I know I’ve bookmarked their site, and I’m gonna order through them from now on! Spread the holiday cheer, my friends!

And have a great one!

Indie spotlight! ABC Books in Amsterdam, the Netherlands!

Today we say Hallo to ABC bookstore and Tiemen, the children’s buyer for the BIGGEST and BEST store in Amsterdam! Now, you all know I love me some Netherlands (everyone thinks I’m from there, even if I speak English *cries*) and Tiemen is absolutely grand. I knew ABC would be an awesome bookstore for us to interview and hey, I was right!!

Help me welcome Tiemen and ABC!!

(For those that would like a link: The Mixed up Files ABC Bookstore Netherlands!)

JKB: Welcome, Tiemen! So how long has the ABC been around?

TZ: The American Book Center has been around for a quite a while. It was started by a couple of hippies in the seventies in Amsterdam. Originally it didn’t even had a children’s section, but only pulp books and trashy magazines from the states. The current owner, Lynn Kaplanian, was an American student that was travelling abroad through Europe. She was in need of money so when she was in Amsterdam she applied for a temporary job at the ABC. Soon she discovered she had a real talent for selling books and weeks became months, months became years and eventually she became the owner of the store.

Thirty years later the ABC has moved several times and grown to become one of the biggest independent English bookstores in Europe. With a very nice Children’s and Young Adult section if I may say so.

JKB: Oh, I think you can DEFINITELY say so. *points at lovely book picture*


That bookshelf would be something to be proud of, even in the US! What English Young Adult books are you finding that you simply cannot keep on the shelves?

TZ: ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy by Suzanne Collins is very popular at the moment. It’s a real page-turner so it it’s not only kids who read it. Also the books by Rick Riordan are very popular at the moment. His books are like the American version of Harry Potter with their mix of mythology.

The books by John Green – Looking for Alaska, Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns – are bestsellers. They are hilarious and at the same time deeply emotional books about teens growing up.

Finally the ‘Fallen’ books by Kate Lauren has ushered in the fallen angel hype that is now slowly replacing the vampire romance hype.

JKB: Do you do events for the kids? What kinds?

TZ: The American Book Center has a large Children’s and Young Adult section, but it is still a small section of the store overall. We do have events, but these events tend to focus on art and design books (Amsterdam has a large community of young artists or otherwise creative people and the ABC has a very large art and design section).

**drools again**

We do sometimes have book-signings by authors but the problem is often that it is very hard to have them come from abroad.

We do give schoolchildren and teachers a discount on all the books they buy. Still I would love to have more events specifically for kids and a book reading event for children is high on my wish-list.

JKB:  This sounds awesome! I know we’ve got some serious authors that would be happy to stop by! *g* How difficult is it to promote English children’s books and English books in a foreign speaking market?

TZ: Promoting English books in general is actually very easy in the Netherlands. This has to do with the fact that a majority of Dutch people are fluent in English and are used to read, write and speak English on a regular basis. Even the majority of shows on TV are in English.

Also a lot people either prefer to read authors in their original language (which is English in most cases) or just can’t wait until the translation in Dutch is released.

The same applies to children’s books. Of course for the very young children, five years or younger, their parents prefer to buy Dutch books, but I do see a lot of young children reading English books. Usually they have to read a book for school or they (or their parents)  want to improve their English. A lot of teenagers are voracious readers and they can really devour the Young Adult section. Especially during school-vacations it often happens we will have kids with their parents in the store bargaining about the amount of children’s books they will buy; the kids of course want to read as many books as possible, the parents just don’t want the top of the pile of books to reach the ceiling.

JKB: What genres fly off the shelves?

TZ: Even though they have been around for years now, books about paranormal romances ( i.e. girls who fall in love with pale boys with a mysterious and sad aura who happen to be vampires/werewolves/fallen angels) are still the best selling books in the Young Adult section. The Twilight serie by Stephanie Meyer is still the  undisputed ruler, but there are a lot of other series that also have a large following. The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith, House of Night by P.C. and Kirsten Cast, Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare are a few examples of such series that fly of the shelves.

Recently also the dystopian novels have made a big impact. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is very popular. What is interesting is that a lot of these dystopian novels are not only about a future society that is controlled by a Big Brother like government, but  in which the environment has completely collapsed and people have to survive on a planet that is not as hospitable as it was once before.

Also the last few years there has been a rise of books in the Young Adult section that deals with the issue of death. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, a story about the suicide of a teenage girl and the impact it has on a boy in her school, is an example of these kind of books. I believe this is a good development because these books can make a tough subject (and what teenager has not been depressed or thought about death?) easier to talk about and help teenagers with their own development. Plus they are really good books to read.

JKB: Do you hand sell? What makes a book hand-sellable for you?

TZ: Yes, I often like to give suggestions or recommendations to kids and their parents. A lot of young adult books are really great but are often overlooked. So when a kid or parents are looking for something new I like to give them a little nudge towards the books I think they will love to read. It is always a great kick when they come back after a few weeks and ask if I have any more suggestions.

Two things makes a book hand-sellable: a great cover and a good hook. Especially with young-adult books these days you have great covers. Beautiful stylized, sometimes it’s almost as if you are looking at a movie-poster or a work of art. Of course you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t hurt if said cover manages to capture the eye. The second thing you need is a good hook. A book is very hand-sellable if you can say in one or two sentences what the story is about in such a way that it makes people go ‘hey I want to read that!’

JKB:  How do you find new books? (The avenues – publishers? requests?)

TZ: I use  the traditional sources – publishers and reviews in magazines – and I also listen to customer requests.

However, the last few years social media have become a really great tool to find new books. There are a lot of website that allow people to categorize and list the books they have read. So often I like to browse Goodreads, one of these websites, and just have a quick look what people are reading. If I notice a book is read by a lot of people and it gets a lot of positive feedback I know that we might have a potential winner. Basically it’s like a hundred people telling you about a book in less than five minutes.

JKB: I use Goodreads for that, too! What is the BEST part about working in a bookstore? Besides for the book discount? *g*

TZ: Bringing people into contact with new books. It literally brighten up my day if a customer walks towards me and ask if I can give a few recommendations. Often the recommendations turn into a little tour of the Young Adult section, or Sci-Fi section because I am also a big Sci-Fi fan. It is really nice when you spend some time with a customer just talking about books and you see their eyes glow with anticipation to read the books you showed.

Reading books is great, but sharing the books you love with other people is even better.

JKB: I think we can all agree that the ABC bookstore, and Tiemen, are so full of fabulosity that they will become a direct stop if you’re ever in Amsterdam (or plan to make a book-trek *raises hand*).

Thank you SO much, Tiemen, for being so great and allowing us to feature ABC on the blog!

Indie spotlight: Fire petal Books !

Today we welcome FIRE PETAL BOOKS as our Spotlight Awesomest Indie Bookstore in Centerville, Utah! Welcome, guys!

I have to hand it to FIRE PETAL’s owner, Michelle Witte. She was amazingly honest and open, and a real pleasure to interview! Kudos also (IMO) for opening a beautiful new bookstore for kids and teens in this ah, challenged economy. And it’s doing so fabulously, too! A real dream come true, I think.

The marvelous and talented Michelle Witte!

So enough about me. On to Michelle and FIRE PETAL !!

Oh yeah. The Great Author Wall. Coolness reigns here!

JKB: You’re a new independent bookstore. What prompted you to open in the particular area of town, and why this time?

MW: When people ask why I’d do something so crazy as open a bookstore (a dying entity) during a recession, my only thought is: There’s never a good time to take a risk like this. Why let one excuse or another stop you from following your dreams. The thought that originally kicked me into gear with the store was, someday will never happen if I don’t make it happen.

As for the location, I’d lived in Centerville, but had to move away about a year ago. I love this community for many reasons, but the two biggest for locating a store here are proximity to Salt Lake City and the neighborhood feel of the community. Since we’re only 10 minutes north of Salt Lake you’d think it would be much like the city, but it’s really not. Plus it’s the only real independent bookstore between Salt Lake and the next large city, Ogden, which is about 40–50 miles away. I say “real independent” because there are some children’s boutiques and game stores that also sell books, but the retail space devoted to books is much smaller than that devoted to other items.

JKB: Do you do special events for the youngsters?

MW: Of course! That’s one thing indies can bring to a community that larger retailers can’t—the active participation in literature and events. We’re still feeling out what would be best for our store, but we plan to do traditional events storytime and book groups. In addition we’ll have writing groups for teens, writing classes, author discussions, signings, and pretty much whatever we can imagine. Since I own the store, I can do pretty much whatever I want, and I love doing fun, crazy, quirky things.

JKB: How do you get the word out about your fabulous bookstore?

MW: Ooh, I like the sound of “fabulous.” Publicity is actually a tricky thing, especially for a traditional establishment (bookstore) in an evolving world. I used to work as a journalist and editor for newspapers, so I understand how to get the information you want in front of the media. The thing is, newspapers are dying. I don’t say that lightly. The paper I used to work for just laid off nearly half of their staff—including the entire copy desk. So traditional forms of advertising just aren’t going to be as efficient as they were in the past.

Another path is to use the internet as marketing tool. It has a lot of pros and plenty of cons as well. How do I find my target audience? And, more than that, how do I make an impression on locals in my target audience. But viral marketing is cheap (other than my time), and I can reach a wider audience. But as I mentioned, how do I narrow that to people who will actually walk into my store? I’m still working on that.

I don’t know the magic answer (please email me if you do), but I’m experimenting in a lot of different ways to figure out what really works. So far, I’m seeing it’ll have to be a combination of traditional media mixed with online venues. The ideal situation would be for the mix of marketing to spark a word-of-mouth frenzy. Actually, the most interested customers walking into the store come after recommendations from friends and family. Those who walk in off the street might be interested, but there’s a higher likelihood of them walking right back out again after a quick browse. It’s the personal connection—the community—that will bring customers to our door and keep them coming back.

JKB: Could we have your website? Twitter account? Facebook? (Note to readers: showing support online is just as awesome as dropping by! You can even purchase books online through FIRE PETAL, I’ll tell you more about that in a bit)

MW: Do you really want the list? This could be dangerous—and much more than you asked for.

JKB: Hit me.

MW: Well, here goes:









JKB: What are some upcoming events we all can look forward to?

MW: Starting Friday, Oct 15 at 3 pm, we’ll be having a weekly storytime. The next two weeks, storyteller Jeff Bond will share ghost stories with kids age 8–13.  We also have writing groups for Teens and YA writers – check out our website for details!

JKB: I also understand that FIRE PETAL will shortly have a way to order books online through the store…so make sure to swing by and support your local indie – EVEN if it’s online, EVEN if you aren’t local! By buying independent you support the fabulous book economy…doncha want to do that?

And if you’re in the area, have a FANTASTICAL KID’S birthday party at FIRE PETAL! Details here.

Thanks again, Michelle, for stopping by The Mixed Up Files! You are amazing, and FIRE PETAL rocks!